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Tim Passios, Senior Director of Solutions Marketing at Interactive Intelligence, joins UCStrategies' Jim Burton in a discussion about Microsoft Lync.
Jim Burton: Welcome to UCStrategies Executive Insights. This is Jim Burton and I am joined today by Tim Passios, Senior Director of Solutions Marketing at Interactive Intelligence. Tim, welcome.
Tim Passios: Thanks a lot, Jim. Glad to be here.
Jim: Tim, I know that Interactive is a very strong partner with Microsoft and I really wanted to get your views on your position of how you think Lync is positioned in the enterprise.
Tim: It probably was over the course of the last two or three years that Lync has made a tremendous impact in the enterprise space. As a vendor in the marketplace of offering communications, we see Lync in our opportunities more than we ever have in the past. But the impact that Lync has made has been tremendous, because they have enabled it with better communications and have integrated it more intimately into the Office suite, it’s amazing to me how it has progressed so much faster than it was earlier saying in its infancies with LCS and OCS. Microsoft Lync has commoditized the PBX in my opinion. Because of their ability to reach so many desktops with voice and, quite frankly, at a relatively inexpensive price, voice becomes a second thought now for organizations, in my opinion. And that’s something that I think we have talked about possibly happening for years, and Lync is the first vendor to be able to make that happen. And they can do that, right? They own the desktop.
Jim: One of the things that I know—and I know there is a little bit of confusion in the marketplace—is that a number of years ago, Interactive had developed call control as a component where you could actually have a stand-alone PBX being associated with your contact center. And that certainly competes directly head-on with Microsoft Lync. So what’s the position that Interactive has on that? Because it looks like you have a sales team that could not only be out there complementing what Microsoft is doing, but from time to time could be competing. And I know there are people who view this as being a potential challenge for you.
Tim: You’re right, Jim. There are a lot of features that we offer to the marketplace that have similarities with the Microsoft Lync product. A couple that we see as overlapping would be, of course, the call control, conferencing, presence management. I mean, those are all basic UC features that – if you are a UC vendor, you need to have embedded in your products. So clearly we’re not the only vendor out there that would compete head-to-head with Microsoft on those particular feature sets. But holistically, Interactive Intelligence maintains a position that when Microsoft Lync is being positioned as the underlying communications platform, we just don’t compete. We willingly concede those opportunities to Microsoft.
Realistically, Interactive Intelligence plays very well and much more successfully in the contact center space. And there are so many opportunities out there where Microsoft Lync has been established as the voice platform enterprise-wide, but they still lack, of course, in the contact center side. So that’s where we go to market as a partner with Microsoft where they have the enterprise voice side, and we have the contact center side. Because of our integration, we can successfully play together in those opportunities.
Jim: Well, it’s interesting because I understand that Interactive has the most contact center integrations with Lync and with the predecessors of Lync than any of your competition, so congratulations for that.
Another question is, what brought you to develop with Lync and how are you improving the customer experience by making that integration?
Tim: This is something that we started off thinking about, probably back when LCS first came out. As an internal initiative, we saw that LCS then OCS and now Microsoft Lync filled an area, a particular feature set, which our offering just didn’t have. Again, we mentioned a couple of the feature sets that we have that overlap; but some of the things that we did not do well that Lync provides include instant messaging as well as desktop sharing, video and a few other things.
If you look at where we can go with the customer experience by combining our offering, the Customer Interaction Center, or CIC, with Microsoft Lync, the customer experience just dramatically improves, and here is the reason why. If you look at a scenario where a customer calls into the contact center, we do a fantastic job of routing that call directly to a skilled agent, to the right location at the right time. We do a phenomenal job of matching that customer up to the right agent, regardless of their location.
And once that conversation is occurring, if that customer needs assistance and the agent doesn’t have the answers that customer needs, then the logical approach is for that agent to find the knowledge expert they need to be able to get the right answers. And it’s all about first call resolution, right? You want to be able to solve that customer’s problem the first time that they call in.
Well, using Microsoft Lync, when it’s been established as the voice platform across the enterprise, we can now leverage instant messaging. That, as well as presence that Lync provides to be able to find that subject matter expert, instant message with them to get the answers that we need, and then of course convey them right back to the customer who needed it. That dramatically increases first call resolution rates, which impacts customer experience and customer service as a whole.
And a couple of other areas that also helps with the Microsoft Lync are in the area of desktop collaboration – desktop sharing. If an agent needs to communicate with a subject matter expert and that subject matter expert needs to see that agent’s desktop, and so therefore screen sharing needs to occur, that happens. Not only just at the time of a call occurring, but also during training times. It is a great tool to be used and it is just a feature that we don’t provide within our platform. But it’s a feature that Microsoft Lync provides seamlessly.
As far as video is concerned, video comes in very handy, especially in a remote agent or work-at-home agent environment. Oftentimes agents working from home can feel isolated and left out. By leveraging Microsoft Lync to be able to initiate a point-to-point video to and from a subject matter expert or even their supervisor or anybody else within the organization, it dramatically improves that experience for that work-at-home agent. Now they feel less isolated and more connected with the rest of the organization. And they can also use it as a nice tool for training purposes.
So our goal with this integration was to facilitate that entire process and to eliminate the need for agents to juggle between Microsoft Lync and our desktop interface. So we set about to integrate the two together into one desktop interface, and that’s what we have accomplished. We first did this integration back when LCS was around and we improved it with OCS. Now with Microsoft Lync we have even further improved it and embedded it more tightly into our desktop application.
Jim: Tim, I know it’s challenging when a customer is moving to Lync, looking at whether they should integrate their contact center at the same time. And I have heard stories about people waiting to do the contact center integration after Lync and some time after Lync. And others are doing it at the same time. So what has your experience been and what do you suggest?
Tim: I think that’s a good area to explore because it could be one of those things that as people are looking at Lync and they look at opportunities, they start thinking, “well, when do I bring in the contact center piece?” My response to that would be, we are seeing both. We are seeing customers who are trying to evaluate holistically their entire enterprise communications, and they’re trying to figure out – what is the best solution? And I’ve got a good case study for that, too. One of our customers had grown through acquisition to a company of around 4,000 employees or so, and they had disparate communication platforms. Their customer service was greatly lacking, but at the same time they also knew the communications amongst their entire employee base was lacking just because they couldn’t get the infrastructure to communicate well.
So they decided that they wanted to go down the Microsoft Lync path. They wanted to have a single communications platform and Microsoft Lync was going to be it. But because customer service was also critical to them, they brought in contact center vendors to evaluate, that would work together with Lync at the same time they were pulling the switch on making the decision to go with Microsoft Lync.
And so, yes, there are those companies who I think are going down that path of “hey, we want to get our enterprise communications done first and we will consider contact center later.” My viewpoint here in my ivory tower is that the majority of organizations today are actually approaching it more holistically. They don’t want to have to try to juggle one communications vendor with another at varying times. They want to set it in stone, make the decision now, knowing that I’ve got as few vendors as I have to deal with as possible.
Jim: Tim, thank you very much for your time today. It has been very enlightening, and as always I doing podcasts with you.
Tim: Thank you, Jim. I appreciate you having me on to do this one with you.
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